The Definition of American Patriotism (ca. 2013)
MADISON, Wis. — According to the “originalists” who currently dominate the Supreme Court, little has changed in American politics and culture since the Fourth of July, 1776. But if you look closely, 237 years after the Founding Fathers signed the Declaration of Independence, there are a few teensy differences.
Consider, for example, the definition of “patriotism.” A self-described “patriot” in ’76 had qualities no longer patriotic. Paul Revere and Sam Adams were, for example, the least conservative guys on the block. They were bolsheviks ready to take up arms and overthrow the established order. They believed in elections and in representative, secular government whose power derived neither from bishops nor aristocrats nor kings, but from the people. They were geopolitical isolationists who opposed the creation of a permanent armed force.
On the other hand, the ’76 patriot was a racist tolerant of slavery, a colonialist indifferent to the genocide of native Americans, a sexist with no concept of women’s rights and an elitist who reserved suffrage solely to property owners.
Moreover — and here was perhaps his worst oversight — he did not foresee the evolution of the corporation, nor of the financial industries that sustain it.
Nowadays, a “patriot” is a whole different fish. Although more eager to take up arms than his 18th-century forebears, he takes them up purely for the fun of it. Although he favors the overthrow of the established order, he prefers to accomplish this so selectively — preserving certain federal blessings to himself while denying them to others — that the established order deems him an idiot and thrives on his political incoherence. The establishment knows that, even if this so-called patriot tried to use his arms to overthrow the nation he says he “loves,” he’d hit nothing he was aiming at and probably end up accidentally shooting his wife in the ass.
The modern “patriot,” while “loving” America, sees the secular regime preferred by Washington, Jefferson and Franklin as a godless tyranny. He believes the founders, despite their clearly stated intentions and their hatred of European theocracies, intended America to be an exclusively “Christian” (well, Protestant) nation that imposes one faith on all citizens, requires schoolchildren to pray to Jesus on their knees in front of the Flag and before every football game, and renounce — as blasphemy — all scientific discoveries since, roughly, 1850 (except for, maybe, penicillin, Rogaine and Viagra).
Today’s “patriot” worships armed forces, recoiling at suggestions that the biggest military-industrial complex in the history of the world, larger than the forces of the next best-armed 14 nations, is a bottomless money pit and — because of its appetite for war — a threat to the democracy it purports to defend. The “patriot” worships death at a distance. He cheers for his godly army to intervene wherever on earth there is conflict, but holds himself fastidiously apart from the patriotic gore that is his military juggernaut’s effluent. His patriotism consists of hiring young “heroes” to do the obligatory dying, and giant corporations to manage the carnage, sell the body bags and provide the fuel that flies the dead kids home.
The “patriot” of 2013, although still infected with racism, has forgotten slavery. He gambles innocently at casinos run by the survivors of a thousand massacres. He’s willing to let girls vote, but isn’t ready to give them full dominion over their ovaries. A true “patriot” believes in the sanctity of life until birth.
A “patriot” believes in a lot of rights, except those that have gone too far, and he knows what he means by “too far” even if he can’t explain it. He believes that workers who join together to fight for better wages and a safer workplace have gone “too far” and imperil the God-given freedom of other workers willing to labor for less than a living wage without safety, security, dignity or the right to pee.
A “patriot” knows that a businessman, boss or corporation has “rights,” modeled after those specified by our Founders but that corporate rights — augmented by wealth and the political power that wealth purchases fair and square on the free market of self-interest and obeisance — are proportionately greater than the Founders’ outmoded and quaintly humanistic original rights. The modern “patriot” honors the corporation by will or by command — as he worships his Lord — in a host of ways. Above all, he consumes — rampantly — without regard to consequences. He buys, patriotically, the output of corporations, from sweatshop jeans and peasant-labor smartphones to coal-fired electricity. He spends freely in support of capitalism toward the day, not long from now, when America, from sea to gummy sea, evolves naturally into a vast corporate product — a coast-to-coast landfill sizzling like bacon on a grill, under a purple haze of celestial filth, where every fetus is carried to term only to die of emphysema with its first breath.
Our Founders had no corporations, but certainly, they would feel a fatherly awe as they behold these born-in-the USA nation-states. Like us, they would kneel at their altar, pledging allegiance to the corporate mission to sustain a torrent of wealth into their vaults and tax shelters, while we all scurry to catch the spill from their bulging pockets, and revile the few upstarts and “activists” who mistrust their goodwill, who misunderstand the patriotic strategy of moving old jobs overseas to make way for newer, fewer, but better jobs for loyal Americans who deserve them.
A patriot, whatever his flaws, used to be someone who stood side-by-side with his fellow citizens, ready to defend — with his life, if necessary — the equality of every human being and justice for all. His three sacred words: “E pluribus unum.”
Now, a true patriot (cue the flag, turn on the wind machine, strike up “God Bless America”) knows the price of equality, justice and even life — both retail and wholesale — and will buy just enough of each to make himself comfortable, pay the security company and keep the riffraff beyond the perimeter. His three sacred words: “I’ve got mine.”